A consuming evil facing the world, fought against by a virtuous band of unlikely comrades who eventually come up against and kill that evil. Sound familiar? Yeah like every JRPG you’ve ever played probably, but Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (hereafter Ys 8) made a measured choice to move away from that to a more personal conflict, carried forward by an intoxicating presentation and driving battle system.
Self Proclaimed adventurer Adol Christin and close friend Dogi set out aboard the Lombardia with sights set on new adventures, though anyone could tell from the opening five minutes after he hears a legend of a mysterious island that nobody has returned from, that the ship is not long for this world. After the ship is attacked by a mysterious creature, which totally isn’t the kraken guys, Adol finds himself washed ashore on the Isle of Seiren, alone and aside from a rusty sword beside him, fending for himself.
"Adol and the party of characters you meet aren’t driven by saving their homeland from a neighbouring empire or avenging. It’s a far more primal struggle for survival and escape. "
Adol and the party of characters you meet aren’t driven by saving their homeland from a neighbouring empire or avenging. It’s a far more primal struggle for survival and escape. You’re not racing against a corrupt force that wants to do the bad, you’re exploring your makeshift island home in order to find survivors, materials to create better weapons and armour to defend yourself against the vicious wildlife and ultimately to escape the island.
The setting drives key design deviations from other JRPGs as well. Adol and his growing band of survivors come together to make the best of their situation and defend themselves, building up the evolving home base of Castaway Village, more and more of which will become available to you as you progress in your exploration, find new castaways and add their numbers and unique skills to the group.
Perhaps you’ll have a rock to sharpen your blades, but a blacksmith’s daughter can reinvigorate your shabby, scavenged weapons and forge new armour to take on the tougher wildlife, or a Doctor will join the village who has more experience blending better medicine than you could before. Exploring, finding and growing all feed back onto each other in more ways than just an experience bar. Narratively and through gameplay systems, Adol comes to rely on the skills of those they rescue to penetrate deeper into the island just as they rely on him and his exploration party to ultimately get them home.
"Narratively and through gameplay systems, Adol comes to rely on the skills of those they rescue to penetrate deeper into the island just as they rely on him"
In the interim, the colourful cast can all have a decent, focused arc instead of just passing by a nameless quest giver, never to think about him again. The Captain wants to build a watchtower so please keep an eye for some nice wood while out and about. Quests don’t feel too much like busywork with this system, as they all come from characters that you’re compelled to care about.
If anything, the setting alone helps carry the entire game, giving you a compelling gameplay loop to drive you forward. The characters grow with you, but the dialog accompanying that growth can sometimes be a bit grating. Ys 8 dialog suffers a bit from telling instead of showing, making the voiced interactions in particular very stilted at times. It’s distracting, but not debilitating. There is also a subplot involved a little ways into the game that eventually ties in, but it kind of gets lost within the strength of the core premise, and until they build to the payoff feels more like a distraction from Adol’s adventures.
While actually out in the field, the combat of Ys 8 takes centre stage. Feeling a bit like a combination between Tales of and Fire Emblem, it builds off of the rock/paper/scissors core so many JRPG start with by having enemies susceptible to the specific type of damage your core team members can do. Perhaps you’ll need the Laxia’s Rapier to clip the wings of flying foes or the giant blunt anchor of Sahad to crack open an armoured enemy and break their defence.
"Any mud I do have to sling at the combat is based almost completely in how the controls can be mapped a bit strangely"
Ys layers a few extra systems onto the basic combat to allow some room for player skill, such as a well timed dodge slowing down your surroundings in a gameplay system reminiscent of Bayonetta’s Witch Time. Using your skills allows them to grow and deal more damage as you master them as well, rewarding you for taking the time to learn how to use them effectively.
Any mud I do have to sling at the combat is based almost completely in how the controls can be mapped a bit strangely and I seem unable to do things I feel like I would expect to do at a moment’s notice. There is no real shift to combat situation from field once you’re exploring, and that means whether in the heat of battle or just taking in the sights, you can accidentally trigger a special move instead of starting to dash like you wanted, or pop open the menu when you intended to block. You can swap which party member you’re controlling at the tap of a button, but mapping that to Square saw me doing that unintentionally a few times.
For a finer point, the game could have stood to borrow a cue from Tales of when it comes to commanding your team. If it took going into a menu for some finer control I would have been OK with that, but Ys 8 allows only full force attack or run away screaming to be set for the two party members you aren’t controlling, and they both must be on the same setting. I can’t set one member who’s taken a beating to avoid combat without also losing the other team member who’s still completely fighting fit.
"The different environments all feel different from each other, brought to life with a gorgeous colour pallet that recalls the breathtaking landscapes of Xenoblade,"
Of course, the only reason this all works is because the world of Ys 8 and the island is such a gorgeous and diverse place to explore. The different environments all feel different from each other, brought to life with a gorgeous colour pallet that recalls the breathtaking landscapes of Xenoblade, only this time with the hardware to back up that art direction. and of course, the series is renowned for its music, bringing every new area a certain swashbuckling, excited energy that suggests the hope of the castaways.
Some pervasive but ultimately only small problems aside, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana has a lot going for it. The uniqueness of the setting creates a natural and interesting scenario and problems to overcome, and some janky controls, stilted writing, and a subplot that falls flat can’t change that much at all. If you haven’t adventured with Adol, this is a great place to get lost with him.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 4.
Deserted island is a unique and fantastic setting for an RPG, demanding interesting systems changes and allows a unique character focus to be baked right into the gameplay loop. Gorgeous setting with fantastic colour usage. OST is adventurous and enthralling.
Controls are mapped weird, and the writing is all over the place. Subplot gets in the way.